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Time for Laughs

by Taru Anniina Liikanen 17 days ago in happiness

In 2022, I'm making time to create for creativity's sake, not money.

Time for Laughs
Photo by Bogomil Mihaylov on Unsplash

Right at the end of 2019, I decided I wanted to become a stand-up. 

Timing, obviously, has never been my strong suit.

I can't say it had been a lifelong dream, but I was always a comedy fan. Growing up in Finland, I learned English from American sitcoms and watched Conan O'Brien every night of my adolescence. When I saw Saturday Night Live and learned who Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Will Ferrell were, it felt magical, like I was witnessing something truly amazing. 

In later years, I started watching stand-up, learning about it, seeing every Netflix special, reading books, listening to every podcast. Not because I wanted to become a comedian, but because I love comedy as an art form.

Not a Speaker, but a Performer for Sure

To be clear, I am not a public speaker. I still have a hard time speaking up in meetings at work. Every presentation in school made me sweat and made my face turn red, with one notable exception: the one time in high school I needed to make a speech.

I listened to my classmates giving their prepared performances about the economy, the environment and other Smart and Important Issues. I watched the most popular guy in the school crash and burn while trying to do a comedic speech. But I had an idea, so I jotted down a couple of notes and stepped on the stage to do mine.

The topic? Little dogs and why they shouldn't exist. 

To be clear, I love dogs, even the small ones, but I knew I had a couple of good jokes. 

As soon as I got in front of the class and started talking, I was in a different world. I wasn't my insecure self, I was in someone else's skin. I was comfortable.

Zero preparation, all the laughs. I even got a good grade.

It felt amazing, but that was it. My country barely had a comedy scene in those days, and my small town had absolutely zero to offer in that sense. I could have created my own space, of course, but it just wasn't something you'd even think about back then. There was no Youtube or Instagram. So I went about my life as a comedy fan, never an aspiring comedian.

Considering I later studied and worked in politics, I think I may have even overcorrected a little bit, trying to become a Serious Professional and a Real Writer.

But not everybody is serious. Some of us are goofy. We have voices and characters and stupid puns in our heads, even when we're writing a speech for a politician. As for me, I also have an unintentionally funny face. I make weird expressions without trying to, and people laugh at me even when I'm serious. It's just what it is. 

In the past several years, I've noticed I perform jokes and characters for other people. I don't mean to do it, but I automatically put on a comedian costume and instinctively perform when I'm in public. Dates, friends, the supermarket. Wherever. My brain just starts pointing out the fun in everything.

Do not take me to an art museum. You will be embarrassed.

Trying It On

And then, in 2019, I figured I'd try it.

There was really no real goal of becoming a comedian. I was just going through some hard times with work and relationships, and the only way I knew of treating them was getting back to creating, expressing myself in any way that felt good. So I started writing, and singing, and took a stand-up class.

I loved going to class. Hanging out with funny people and laughing for a couple of hours is an amazing way to spend time. So is making music, by the way. It feels like opulence in today's world, to just sit around with other people with no other purpose than having fun and creating something new.

It's a luxury to take the time to laugh.

The three-month course finished with a showcase in December for friends and family, and we all prepared our seven-minute set for it.

I was so nervous before jumping on the stage I thought I might faint. What if they didn't laugh? What if I rushed through the thing and didn't let the jokes breathe? What if they didn't understand my accent? I'm also not necessarily likable, and that might mean nobody will laugh.

On top, I was the closer, so they would remember me. For better or worse.

In horror, I watched some of my buddies from the class crash and burn. And this was no open mic with only other comics watching. These people in the audience were friends and family, weren't they required to laugh? What if the same thing happened to me?

But as soon as I got on that stage, it was the tiny dog situation all over again. I wasn't uncomfortable or nervous, and I didn't speed through and ruin the jokes. I took my time, let them breathe and allowed the punch lines to grow.

I was at home on that stage.

And people laughed. I got the biggest laughs in the show, and all my jokes worked.

That laughter felt exactly like I'd heard some of my favorite comedians describe it: a drug. I wanted to do it again, and again, and again. I wanted to sign up for every open mic and start building an audience, writing more jokes. Not to make money, but to do it just for the sake of doing it.

But there was no time before Christmas, so I told myself I'd pick it up again after the Buenos Aires summer vacations, in March 2020.

Solid plan. 

Pandemic Buzzkill

I spent the year locked up at home, like most people.

In January 2020, I started working as a freelance writer for a content agency.

To say I was exploited by them is an understatement. And it was all for pennies, which meant I also needed to find other jobs, and had no time for myself.

There are two things I learned about freelance writing then.

  1. If it doesn't pay, it's not a job. Repeat this with me, and then go get paid.
  2. If you don't take some time to do what you love, you'll burn out.

I didn't take time. To rest, to work out, to enjoy anything. I just worked, but it was getting harder and harder to do because I was getting emotionally drained. There was nothing to nurture me aside from work.

During the long quarantines, the only people I had regular contact with were the people in the supermarket, and I gave them my entire comedy routine every week. I prepared actual jokes to tell them, because there was nobody else to perform for. I was also the one person to call all my friends regularly to make them laugh. It felt amazing to lift their spirits during those tough times, but there was a personal need in it, as well.

I needed laughter to rest my brain. I needed to perform to be able to keep working.

By January 2021, I was burned out and suffering from crippling anxiety with every article I wrote for clients.

It still took me several months and a Covid infection to get to a stage where the only thing I could do was stare at the wall. But I got there, and spent weeks without being able to write a single word.

I knew I couldn't go back to working in that same way. Something needed to change. I couldn't allow work to be my life.

What got me through it all was laughter. My favorites, from Amy Poehler to Whitney Cummings, Ali Wong and Marc Maron, were the people keeping me company when my brain needed rest. Watching movies and stand-up specials, listening to podcasts, remembering what it felt like to create.

Two months after my Covid infection, I sat behind the computer again and started writing. For me.

I finished 2021 in a good place. Broke, but mentally in charge. Now I'm on Vocal, expressing anything and everything I want.

But something is still missing. I need the stage.

New Year, New Start

There's a Vonnegut quote I love from A Man Without a Country that's going to be my guide for 2022.

"The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something."

This is what I need in 2022. While writing is my job, I need to make time to create something that's for pure enjoyment. Creativity to feel good, not just to make money.

That's what comedy can give me: some rest from work, from the constant need to create something for the algorithm, for platforms, for clients. Comedy is a moment of respite for my brain.

But has it been too long? Is it possible to get back when I barely even got started? How do I do it?

I forgot that life has a funny way of solving things for you when you need it.

Last week, my teacher, the comedy club owner, sent me a DM on Instagram.

"I'm organizing a show in January for former students. Do you want to join?"

I didn't hesitate for a second. I'm getting back on that stage and I'm enjoying every second of it. I'm going to start building a space for myself in the local comedy scene, but I'm not doing it for the money.

In 2022, I'm making time for the laughs.


Taru Anniina Liikanen

Finnish by birth, porteña at heart. Recovering political ghostwriter. Fiction, relationships, politics, bad puns, popular and unpopular opinions.

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